Hypocrisy and Human Rights

Category: Americas, World Affairs Topics: Human Rights, Occupation Views: 4163

I briefly met Natan Sharansky about five years ago. We were sitting together at NBC TV waiting for our respective interviews. I wanted to speak with him. In fact, I had wanted to speak with him since the late 1980's.

It is also not credible to complain about the US' use of torture or "secret detentions" or Israel's brutal treatment of Palestinian detainees, and not condemn similar practices when they are carried out by Arab governments. 

I recalled, vividly, Sharansky's stance as a "prisoner of conscience" in the former Soviet Union, his celebrated release and, later, his arrival in Israel. I also remembered how, while at first silent about Israel's treatment of Palestinians, he finally spoke out in condemnation. And then, I recalled, how the Israeli establishment pounced on him and not only silenced this former human rights champion-but turned him into an apologist for Israeli policy. Later, as Sharansky entered Israeli politics, he was allied with the right wing. He moved from silence in the face of violations of Palestinian human rights to being an advocate for these violations. Still later, as a minister in the government, he carried out these same violations.

I followed all this closely, because I had hoped that Sharansky would have reacted differently. A friend, Dr. Israel Shahak, himself a former child prisoner abused in Nazi war camps, and later founder of the Israeli League for Civil and Human Rights, sent me frequent clippings from the Israeli press and reports on Sharansky's public activities. 

Shahak was as disappointed as I was that Sharansky would not "measure human rights with one yard stick" - that he would be selective in his commitment. 

And so I waited in the NBC holding room, until Sharansky had finished his phone call and then I approached him. We initially exchanged pleasantries, and then I told him how I had followed his career and how I had been disappointed by his submission to pressure. His voice, I told him, could have been so important, but he had lost his courage and had agreed to be silent.

He listened, and, at first, mumbled something to the effect that I didn't understand the "Palestinian threat." Then he fell silent and looked away. In fact, as I recall, he made very little eye contact with me throughout the exchange.

I gingerly attempted to pursue the topic, but, with his head down and his eyes turned away, he made it clear there would be no further conversation. I have often wondered what his behavior meant. Had I reached him and did he feel guilt? That was too much to hope for. Or, did he, realizing that I was not a sycophant or part of his mesmerized following, decide that it was simply not useful to waste words on an "unbeliever."

Over the years, when I've seen his name, I've thought of his hypocrisy. It troubled me that his forced "snap conversion on human rights" of the late 80's had been forgotten, his myopia ignored. But no more. In recent weeks a flurry of sharp and tough critiques of Sharansky have been written by a variety of individuals appearing in a range of publications-from the right wing American Conservative and right wing, pro-Israel New York Sun to a critical assessment of all of this in the liberal Jewish weekly Forward. It appears that, at last, "the little hero" is getting knocked down to size.

Of course most Americans don't remember Sharansky's history as a "refusenik" or "prisoner of conscience." They probably don't even remember the Soviet "gulags." What they do know about Sharansky is that he has become the "darling" of the Bush Administration. It has been reported that it was a long conversation Sharansky had with Vice President Cheney that led to the Administration's decision to isolate, ignore, and seek the removal of Palestinian Authority President Yasser Arafat. And, more recently, it was after a long meeting in the White House between President Bush and Sharansky that the President emerged to praise his book The Case for Democracy. President Bush said, "I felt like his book just confirmed what I believe. He writes a heck of a lot better than I could write, and he's certainly got more credibility than I have..." 

"Ay," to borrow from Shakespeare, "there's the rub." The point is, does Sharansky have credibility? The recent above-mentioned criticisms from the right and left appear to agree that because of his silence in the face of Israeli abuses of Palestinian human rights and denial of democratic rights to this occupied people, he is not credible. 

Now there is an important lesson here, not only for Americans and Israelis, but for Arabs as well. For our commitment to human rights to be consistent and not hypocritical, it must be absolute. We, too, must measure human rights by one yardstick. 

I recall in the 1980's there were two competing groups in California-one pro-Syrian Baath, the other pro-Iraqi. Each year they would issue separate human rights reports accusing the other of violations, while ignoring the violations of their sponsoring regime. Neither was credible. 

It is also not credible to complain about the US' use of torture or "secret detentions" or Israel's brutal treatment of Palestinian detainees, and not condemn similar practices when they are carried out by Arab governments. 

Our goal must be to be consistent in the defense of rights. Or else we are no better than, and no less hypocritical than, Natan Sharansky.

Dr. James J. Zogby is the President of Arab American Institute and can be reached at [email protected]

  Category: Americas, World Affairs
  Topics: Human Rights, Occupation
Views: 4163

Related Suggestions

The opinions expressed herein, through this post or comments, contain positions and viewpoints that are not necessarily those of IslamiCity. These are offered as a means for IslamiCity to stimulate dialogue and discussion in our continuing mission of being an educational organization. The IslamiCity site may occasionally contain copyrighted material the use of which may not always have been specifically authorized by the copyright owner. IslamiCity is making such material available in its effort to advance understanding of humanitarian, education, democracy, and social justice issues, etc. We believe this constitutes a 'fair use' of any such copyrighted material as provided for in section 107 of the US Copyright Law.

In accordance with Title 17 U.S.C. Section 107, and such (and all) material on this site is distributed without profit to those who have expressed a prior interest in receiving the included information for research and educational purposes.

Older Comments:
Regrettably, Sharansky is but an iota among the multitude of activists and intellectuals who betray their calling upon association with the establishment - not that this is necessarily treacherous. One's place in official government capacity often permits access to a vast plethora of information that are otherwise unavailable to the public: intelligence reports, military espionage, etc, that might cloak flagrant human rights abuses in the guise of national security.

That human rights discourse is appealing to left-wing scholars and activists alike are not surprising: as Robert Kaplan argues, realists run the government while idealists write articles from the sidelines. Civil liberties are consistently trampled upon in the name of greater state interests because these activists rarely present practical and workable solutions even in the onslaught of immediate threat to life, liberty and property of ordinary law-abiding citizens.

Unless these activists do more than pay lip service and linger in their chattering voices, Sharansky will only breed more Sharanskys.

Thank you Dr. Zogby for your first person account of Sharansky. I agree with your conclusion entirely.

The people must overthrow their rulers when the the rulers indulge in tyranny - whether as a puppet or by their own inclination.


The first thing we know that the us, isreal, and middle eastern countries are waging war against Islam and Moslems. These middle eastern countries have been established on secular western model to acheive what christians and Jews could not acheive for centuries, to contain Islam, to change the true concepts of Islam, to create a new Islam alien to the tradition of Prophet Mohammed(p b u). Here we are accepting the national western state model, and attacking the Khilafah as if it became alien to the moslems. This topic should focus on the causes of abuses in the middle east, the west have created their model in the moslem world and after that they tried to judge it according to different criteria, the west in the leadership of the us are not trying to make justice, they are trying to abolish Islam according to gradual plot worked by them and their allied rulers but in differnt means and methods. They are driven by the domination of wealth, exploiting the sweat of Moslems and weak countries, and spreading their evil tyranny rule in the whole world. Facts that the Quran and the Sunnah have mentioned, but hypocite scholers are tring to validate this secular Kufer system or ignore the real problem and to deceive the Ummah in stead of taking after the footsteps of the Prophet(P.b.u), they want to please their tyrannet leaders and sell out Islam for little price the way the Jews have been described in the Quran , it,s been mentioned that the silent on evil is a mute Shitan. The bottom line that there is a global plot to abolish Islam or to contain it. Allah said "they plot and Allah is plotting for them, He is best of the plotters. Islam versus secular westernist, the doctrine of Islam versus Capitalism, the Khilafah versus their claimed democracy which abused people of this world left and right and created as propoganda for the losers, if it,s going to last more abuse, sweat exploit, and injusticies is going to spread. Islam will prevail on those who plot agianst it.

In summary, Natan Sharansky is big JOKE...and a puppet of the U.S. gov't.

I appreciate your article and I appreciate you sharing your knowledge. Too many times it is more comfortable for most to go with the status quo as oppose to standing firm in their beliefs. I fear this is the state of affairs for many today and in particular for Muslims around the world.

Mankind should have a shared experience in what is considered universal human rights. But too few care.